The Story of Private Murphy and his Escape from Satichaura Ghat

My main intent with this blog was to show lives.
I did not start out with the idea that I would regale you, dear readers, with lengthy tomes of strategy and battles and the deeds of great men. There are others whose understanding and imaginations are more vivid than mine and are estimably better equipped to relate those tales. I have instead turned my attention to finding out the smaller man, the less eloquent man, the forgotten man. Tales of the survivors of Cawnpore are few and far in between which is not surprising considering the circumstances. There is the much-dissected text of Amy Horne, the account of the grieving Jonah Shepherd and the riveting tale of Captain Mowbray Thomson and the rather bewildering words of Lieutenant Delafosse. However there is nothing from Gunner Sullivan – he did not live long enough to leave anything behind, succumbing to cholera just two weeks after his rescue. Then there is Private Murphy. I have searched endlessly to find out anything about this man. It was a long and confusing search and I am nowhere near the end – but I am determined that he should have his well deserved moment in my writings. After all, he was one of the survivors of Satichaura Ghat and his tale could not be less interesting than that of Captain Thomson. My search led me to this link:

And the reward was a memorandum of Private Murphy, written in his own hand – his story of Cawnpore and the aftermath. I have, faithfully as possible, transcribed the pages, and leave it to my reader’s discretion to step into the mind of Private Murphy. He writes breathlessly, almost rambling from event to event as if he was once again reliving the days as he wrote. There is perhaps nothing spectacular in this text, but it provides us with another viewpoint- the words are from the pen of a genuine survivor, a man of Cawnpore.
I have kept the same page numbers so if my readers would like to look at the original document, as provided in the link above, it will be easier to find the text. There are some words I was unable to fathom though not from lack of trying and would be grateful for any input in this regard. I would also point out at this time, that Private Murphy appears to have been somewhat distracted at the time of his writing as he erroneously writes he left Barrackpore in June – it is my belief, that he meant May.  He also states that a Mrs. Brown brought the message from the Nana Sahib to the Cawnpore defences and I have no compunction to contradict him. The punctuation, for sake of clarity, is mine. Illegible words I have inserted a (…) for reference that there is something missing).


Royal Victoria Hospital 15th February 1869

Enlisted in the city of Cork in the month of June 1853 at the age of 18 years and went from there to Chatham where I joined my depot which was the gallant 84th Regiment.I was a very short time there when I went to join my regiment which was at the time in Madras. Going to Rangoon, where we were stationed for very near 4 years when there was a sudden rout came for the removal of the Regt. to Calcutta at a very short notice which we did accordingly and landed in Calcutta in the month of April 1857 and proceeded to Barrackpoor, where the Regt had only hard duty to do and to content with a very large and determined body of enemy at the time until General Heresy KCB ordered one of the ringleaders to be hung which was Mango (al) Pandey. I do believe at the time that he belonged to the 19thNative Infantry and shortly after this the 19th Native Infantry was disbanded and allowed to go about their business which they did, according to their own words, were very proud of the opportunity.  When they proceeded to the different large stations where they joined and formed large brigades during the mutiny. It was on or about the 22nd or 23rd of (June) 1857 when we left (…)  drawn in Garrys to go to Cawnpoore. There was only so many could leave at a  time it might be 12 of 14 per diem until there was companies of the Regt. on their way to Cawnpoore.  There was the 6th company which led off first, got to Benares and remained there until they were relieved by the F Company of the same Regt. and they proceeded to Cawnpoore and in a few days after the “F Company were relieved by a company of the 10th Regt of Foot and then we started for Cawnpoore in Horse dak and arrived there at about 11.06 on the following evening at Cawnpoore. It was a beautiful moonlit night and we were conveyed to the old hospital as it was then called and as soon as we got there, there was 6 men and a corporal mounted guard which I shall never forget.  And at about 1 or 2 o’clock there was a man rode by the gate where the sentinel was posted on the main road leading from Cawnpoore to  Allahabad. The sentinel challenged him

but he made no answer so he rode by as fast as he could, but at different intervals there was (…) sentinels posted under trees which were the 4th Light Cavalry and when they challenged this man fired at them and went off like lightning. So the next morning the General came to the hospital and was accompanied by another officer. The two officers were mounted and inquired of the guard what had occurred during the night previous. It was explained to him and the General said “Never mind men, I know who it was but you keep the very good work up and do not fire until I give you an order.” So the following night the E Company was ordered off to Lucknow in charge of Captain O’Brien of the same regiment and as soon as they left the barracks where they were stationed this “G” Company was ordered to replace them. It was done accordingly.
This night there was no sign of anything extra until the next morning when the General ordered some waggons to go out to the different stores and bring in all the arms and accruements they could find which was done unmolested. At the same time there was a great number of the inhabitants collecting in the barracks and about 12 or 1 o’clock the General ordered a gun to be fired so as to acquaint the inhabitants to get into the entrenchments as quick as they could. In a very short time, they came flocking from all direction, but I am very sorry to say there was a great many failed in doing so and met with an untimely death. This occurred I am sorry to say on the 12th of June or as near that date as I can recollect.  And on that day the General and Captain Moore of the 32nd Regiment assembled all the Europeans who were in the entrenchment including the women and children and told them off to their posts and after this we were order to go and bring all the furniture there was such as tables and beding (…), boxes and everything that could be got to place all around to prevent the Cavalry from charging upon us. So at about 7 o’clock the same night there was about 90 or 100 Sepoys in the entrenchment as it was called and I was on sentry on the main entrance, such as it was. So these people came to me and wanted to force their way out. I would not allow them out as it was my orders from the General to let no person out but to let all who could, come in. These men were so bent upon getting out that I was fully determined when firing on them but in a short time the General heard of this and he and Captain Moore of the 32nd Regt. and other officers and allowed them to go. So off they went. And at the same time there was a great number of horses – in fact nearly the whole of them – tied outside. They made to the horses and carried them

away to their own lines and no attempts was made to prevent them.  At about 9 o’clock, the General gave the artillery the order to fire into the enemy’s lines which was done and in a very short time the enemy commenced to return our fire with a vengeance from every direction. At the time the Mutiny broke out there was not a morsel of European provisions in the camp; only a little grain and such like which was in stores for the cattle. The provisions came in daily on an elephant from the Commissariat so we were very badly prepared indeed. We only had 4 or 5 small guns which were very soon dismounted and disabled as there was no cover for them.  There was a considerable quantity of ammunition and that was the only thing we could boast of.  And certainly that was but of little service to the large Guns for we could only use it with the muskets and after the first three or four days there was very few men to man the guns. They were all killed or wounded. So women and children had to do the duty which they were scarcely able to do, such as carrying ammunition to and fro, between life and death. In performing the above duty there was a great numbers got slain both women and children. There was but one well in the entrenchment which supplied the whole with water and in a short time it became quite impossible to get water from there as there was a constant fire kept on it day and night and it was impossible to obtain a bag of water even for 10 or 15 rupees. The only chance of obtaining it was at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. At this time, there was four men and a sergeant constantly employed at night to bury the dead and they only had to carry the bodies about 20 yards from where they fell as there was holes dug for that purpose as convenient as possible. Every day there was sorties and charges made on them and each time considerable loss on our side as our party was very weak indeed and it was a great deal more to their advantage.  There was the new barracks which was not finished at the time and two barracks at which we always kept a small party to keep rebels off as well as they could.  Some days we might get a little to eat and at other times we would be for two or three without any.  Every man was in good spirits, expecting relief daily – still no sign of relief came and we were falling off like flies for want of food.  The few horses there were in the entrenchment were served out to all and in very small quantities to man, woman and child and it was quite impossible to get it cooked so you had to use it as it was given

So you can see it was very acceptable even in even in its raw state. Certainly it was very hard on the ladies and the gentry who thought it could never come their turn to eat raw horse flesh but I am sorry to say they was very thankful to get it, besides endure the hardships they had to endure in the month of June which is one of the warmest months in season in central India. And when the Nana Sahib found that we were starved out – in fact starved to death almost  – he sent a woman to us by the name of  Mrs Brown to the new barracks. She had a young child in her arms. She was escorted by a troop of the Fourth Light Cavalry to see if the General would surrender and Captain Moore 32nd Regiment and some other officers went to see what she came for and she told them the message she brought from the Nana Sahib. At the time there was a white flag at both sides and there was not a single shot fired during the time and everything was as silent as possible. So they returned to the entrenchment unmolested and told the general the Nana’s terms and what he intended to do.  So the next morning at about 12 o’clock the General came to all the men and asked them their opinion in the matter. All the men, women, children were against it so he went away and on the next morning at about 11 o’clock there was a small tent pitched. There Captain Moore and five other officers went to send a treaty, it was going on for about four hours when they returned unmolested. During the time there was a sepoy told Captain Whiting of the Royal Artillery that there would not be one man, woman or child go safe to Allahabad, so when they returned, the General told Captain Moore of it and he said, “ It is all rubbish, all will go safe.” But we all had our own opinion. Still it was of no use, I am sorry to say it proved too true to our sorrow. The treaty ran thus, “That all Europeans could go safe to Allahabad except anyone that was serving under Lord Dalhouseys Government”. There was one man that this did affect by the name of Mr. J (…) who died a few days previous of the smallpox. It was agreed that we were to take sixty rounds of ball ammunition each and our rifle, and to give up all the treasury and all that was in the entrenchment. And that we were to hold

ourselves in readiness to embark at six o’clock and that we were to get all conveyances to take all the sick and wounded to the beach. The next morning came. We were in readiness but to our sorrow, we was disappointed. We did not go until the next day which was on the morning of the 27th of June.  At the time they were getting the guns down to the river and were hid behind parapets and marched within twenty yards of them and could not see them. They were hid in the long grass. Certainly we were supplied with all sorts of conveyances to the wharfe. We were allowed to get in the river and some on board of the boats when they opened fire from all the Batteries at both banks of the river. I happened to be one of the rear guard, myself with the General and his family, and partly in the water when the firing commenced. The General did not get to any of the boats.  He was seized and brought out of the water and what became of him after I cannot say. I threw any clothes of(f )me and I began swimming to the next boat with was about one hundred yards from me. I was attacked by several of the Cavalry and they came quite close to me. So when they came within about 10 yards of me I dived and got on the bottom and commenced crawling on the bottom as long as I could remain under water. When I rose again to the surface I was about two hundred yards away from them when they gave whip and spur to their horse and after me again. All this time their horses were swimming and the carbines and ammunitions got wet which providence sent at the time and all this time I had a pair of drawers on me and I could not get time to take them of(f). I was thinking at the time that it was all over with me. Still I trusted to my Maker and it did not fail. And after a long struggle I got my drawers off and after that I had good hopes. After this I had a chance. Still at the same time in about half a mile from here the river was crammed with dead and red with blood, both cavalry and infantry cutting down both men, women and children. At length, their horse and themselves got tired and they returned to where the slaughter was going on. This gave me a chance of a start.

I proceeded down the current between life and death and the men following me on both banks of the river and kept up a continued fire at me all the time.  I had a small cap pouch on my leg which was tied with a silk handkerchief round my calf and could not spare time to take it off. I swam all that day until 5 o’clock in the evening when I overtook a boat that got away the first thing in the morning and got into her and shortly after we were overtaken by another boat belonging to the enemy and they wanted to capture us and bring us back to Cawnpoore to be slaughtered but as the Lord ordered it there was twenty-five or thirty-five men in this boat and about forty or fifty women and children. There was also muskets and ammunition in it which proved us very good friends. They commenced firing and so did we. It lasted until about 5 o’clock in the morning when they went away. And shortly after this, there was about twelve troopers seen riding after us and going to every village giving the alarm. They used to meet us on the banks of the river and give us a very warm salute from guns as well as from the muskets. So at about 8 o’clock the same morning our boat got stranded on account of all the water which got into it from the gunshots and no way of getting it out. So on the left bank of the river there was a large village about one mile and from there came a large party of men some in regimental and some in native costume and they came within about one hundred yards of our boat. They commenced firing at us. There was a civil officer in the boat by the name of Wilbert – he gave orders that there was two officers, twelve men to go and face the party. At the time we had no clothes.  We got a piece of cloth and wound it round our waists and carried with us about 30 rounds of ammunition. We drove them back about 600 yards and returned to the boat to see if we could get her off the bank and at the same time everyone that could got into the river to see if we could get her off but it was impossible to do as she was half full of water.  So they came so close two at

a time that we were ordered to face them again. So we followed them so far that we were cut off from the boat altogether and we had to retire by the bank of the river for about seven miles and all the time the party after us firing at us. So they capture the boat and brought her back to Cawnpore were they kept and tortured until the advanced party of General Havelock KCB when they were strangled and slaughtered and then threw into a well which lay in the compound. They separated the men from the women and children. They sent the men to a long bungalow which lay on the plain about 600 yards from where the barracks were. They remained there for some days and shortly before the advance of General Havelock they were brought out of the bungalo(w) and placed in a large ditch which was in the compound and were shot and cut up like dogs. So the fourteen of us had to retire and keep as close to the bank of the river as possible until we reached a small temple about six miles from where we left the boat.  All this time there was a party of the enemy firing at us as fast as they could and during that time we had muskets and ammunition with us. Still we got to the temple and on trying the enter it, it was with great difficulty on account of a mob which lay waiting for us to give us a salute which they did by killing one sergeant and one man severely wounded in the thigh. They surrounded us and brought a large gun and loaded it with ammunition and commenced operations. They brought large bundles of dry brushwood and placed it across the entrance of the temple which they set fire to and threw large bags of gunpowder into the blaze for the purpose of  stifling (stifling) us and burning us out. During the time we kept the wood off as well as we could while others were employed firing at the blood thirsty mob which were outside.  And  it was a considerable time when the Rajah of the place came mounted and about one hundred with him and he immediately gave orders for the temple to be pulled down to the ground and if possible take us alive. t the time we were utterly exhausted from hunger and thirst and could not hold out any longer so we proposed  at first to shoot each other,2ndly to have so many at a time to make a charge at the enemy through

the fire which extended about four yards from the door of the temple and on a wall that was about five feet high. But before leaving we threw our rifles and the rags we had into the fire and as soon as they were consumed we left the (…) house.  At the first there was seven of us started to get over the wall and to make a charge at the river which was about eight hundred yards from the temple and out of seven there was four at the river one of which was wounded in the head that was Major Thomson, Gunner Sullivan, and Major Delfosse fell into the fire and was severely burned. I was severely wounded in the shoulder. At the time we were going to the river the only thing we had to defend ourselves with was some bricks and stones which was laying in the (…) house. The other poor fellows were cut up like dogs before our faces and we could not assist them. So we commenced to swim to Allahabad which was distance of about ninety miles from here.  After being almost starved to death as we did not break our fast for four days only the water we drank. We persevered on our journey swimming between life and death until about four o’clock in the evening when we discovered a large party of natives on the left bank of the river and they were all armed with matchlocks and they hailed us to come to the shore and said that they were friendly to the government. Still we could not trust them on account of the way we were served.  The officers spoke to them and they said that the Rajah was loyal and that if we were to come out of the water they would take us to the Rajah and we would be taken care of. So at last we consented to go ashore and we decided one way or another.  So when we got into shallow water where we could stand we were trying to go ashore, but we were not able,  for as fast as we stood up we fell down again with weakness and fatigue.  So some of the natives on the beach came to our assistance and we got out onto the bank.  We sat on the grass our feet were so sore we could not stand on them. At this time we were as naked as God brought us into the world. I had 30 rupees hidden about me (tied around his leg in a handkerchief) and I presented it along with a ring which I had on my finger, to the chief of the party, at least I took him to be such.  They then conveyed us

to a village which was about one mile from the river, it became very wet and cold but we were still naked so we sat under a large tree which was in the village and shortly after this there was a very old woman came up to us some saris (?)which at the time we could not make use of on account of being so weak and fatigued so at last thus took and tore a sheet and made five parts of it and gave us our equal share to cover our nakedness. So we remained there about three hours when they sent a message to the Rajah about us. So we were to proceed to the Rajahs at once, but before this they consulted together about casting me adrift on the river so that I could not tell the Rajah that they took the money from me. All this time I could not tell what they were saying, but the officers did and they told them that we were very sorry we could not do more for them at present, so after much persuasion, they let me off and did not send me adrift. So in a short time we got an order to proceed to the Rajah and we started. So we went about hundred yards and were obliged to sit and could not proceed any further. So there was an elephant and pony come to meet us. We then proceeded to the Rajahs palace about ten or eleven o’clock at night when he and his (lines?) and soldiers were in waiting for us. So when we got there we dismounted and got into the centre of a large square which was formed. We were to sit down and we did so.  The Rajah then looked at us and appeared to feel very much for us. At the time he asked the officers a great many questions concerning the outbreak and other affairs so that we were sitting there about two hours when he served us up to a large empty house where there was little dry grass sprinkled on the ground for which we were very thankful for it was a long time since we had the opportunity of having any sleep. So in the morning the Rajah came to us and remained with us about four hours. He allowed us plenty of food and he got us some native clothes and shoes made and very glad we were for to get these. He sent servants through the country to have a look out so the enemy should not come upon us. We remained there during the month of July when word came that Nana Saheb

was coming with two companies of infantry and some cavalry so we were sent to a village about eight miles from there, where we remained about a week. We were sent from there to another Rajah across the river where we remained for five or six days and he sent us to Allahabad. We were on our way when we saw a party of our men on there (their) way to Cawnpore commanded by Lieut. Woolhouse and Lieut. Smith of the Royal Artillery which we joined and marched with them to Cawnpore where we joined General Havelocks force and went with him to Lucknow where we were besieged until we were relieved by the Commander-in-Chief and then remained there at Allambaugh for four months until the Commander-in-Chief came over a second time and there commenced at Lucknow the second time – this was the final fall of Lucknow. After that I formed a part of General Lugards force through —and (f..)pore and all other minor engagements. Her Most Gracious Majesty was pleased to grant me one year’s service for the Defence of Cawnpore and one year’s service for the defence of Lucknow. I have continued to soldier up to the present day until my wounds broke out again and my health is commencing to breakdown. When the 84th Regt. came from India they were stationed at Sheffield and in a very short time after the Commander-in-Chief came with his staff and the Colonel of my Regt. which was then Colonel Lightfoot, brought me to his Royal Highness’ notice who requested me to give a detail of the matter and I did so.  And he told me he was very sorry to see me in such a delicate state of health as I was there in. He said that I was not fit to solider any longer but on account of my being a young soldier and without any home or habitation I was permitted to remain in the service which I am sure had I have been discharged at the time I might have received some benefit from HM government which would have enabled me to go through life with credit to HM service and to myself. And I hope and trust it will be kindly taken into consideration now that I consider myself unfit for further service I sincerely hope that  Her Majesty’s

Government will be so kind as to grant me a favourable situation as will enable me to maintain myself and family with credit.

 I beg to subscribe myself
 Sir Your most obedient humble servant
  (…)Murphy Pte 2/20 Regt.Late HM 84th Regt. of Foot. 

An application has been made to get Pte Murphy into the Corps of Commissionaires


Private Murphy served throughout the mutiny and eventually was appointed caretaker of the Cawnpore Memorial Well. He remained here some years, guiding tourists around the site and for all intents and purposes, made a start at a life outside the army.  But things did not go well for him. He was released from the position and allowed to return to his regiment – unfortunately, Private Murphy bore the blight of the British soldier of the time- a hopeless drunkard given over to fits of rage: anyone near enough to listen would be harangued by Murphy who held the very close opinion that Clemency Canning ought not be Viceroy of India, when Mowbray Thompson was a far superior man and should by right be at the helm. Although Murphy was essentially harmless, he was not the image of a Cawnpore survivor the government wanted. Released from his position, Murphy was sent back to his regiment, reinstated as a full Private and eventually died in obscurity.

The Cawnpore Memorial Well